Just in case you don’t read comments I’m putting up a great response to the Red Sea post by a fellow Poussin scholar, Stephen Conrad. Amongst Stephen’s insights are mention of the “reconstruction of the pillar of cloud” to the right of the picture, far more significant than the changed figure I commented on yesterday. And amen to the possible reunification of the London Adoration of the Golden Calf and the Red Sea, which would be the culmination of this meticulous restoration. How I long for that day!
“As a fellow Poussinist I have enjoyed reading your blogs, and look forward to your 'Poussin Project' but I think, if we are to be at all critical of the conservation of the Crossing of the Red Sea by the NGV, the more important change to the paint surface of this very large canvas than the head reversal, is what appears to be the reconstruction of the pillar of cloud at the extreme right of the picture. Just before this picture was sent to the 1960 Paris exhibition, where it was reunited with it pendant in the National Gallery in London for the first and last time since they were split up for the first time in their history in 1945, the picture was cleaned (in Melbourne?), when it was discovered that the pillar of cloud (not fire, though it may be pinkish in tone, judging from the few glimpses in the online film clip of the newly unveiled restored picture) was so damaged that it was covered up - as Blunt noted in 1966. A study of the Gantrel engraving (on which engraver Wildenstein remarks that he worked after copies not originals, in this case apparently one by Le Brun) may show a face turned round, but there is no pillar of cloud - at least in his tiny reproduction; but the fact that the far more accomplished Baudet made the engraving of the pendant in London, not Gantrel, is interesting, and of course has had consequences for the dating of the work and may be evidence that Poussin did not work on them at exactly the same time - or it may not! In any case, it is greatly to be hoped that the NGV will publish a monograph on the newly restored picture (as, for example, Lyon did when it acquired the 1651 Flight into Egypt) so that the present more advanced technical restoration may be judged against that of 1960, and subsequent photographs until now. Ideally, we can only hope that the National Gallery in London (which cannot lend its picture due to the vandalism it suffer in the early 1980s) may request and be granted the chance to exhibit the pair together for the first time in over 50 years, so that contemporary scholars and the public unable to get to Melbourne may have a chance to study the two pendants. As with the London gallery's restoration of the Leonardo Madonna of the Rocks and the Louvre's cleaning of Leonardo's St Anne, the lengthy time taken by the NGV to clean this important and sadly little known Poussin (simply because of distance) speaks of far more careful conservation work undertaken than in 1960, and publication of the entire process is essential to assure scholars and the public that all changes made to the paint surface are informed and well-judged. It is unlikely that the NGV would not do so, and your blog is certainly right to ask the question.”
There’s an excellent descriptive analysis of the painting by Mark Shepheard over on the Melbourne Art Network.
And finally, here’s my first entry on the Poussin Connoisseurship Project, on the Birmingham copy of Christ Healing the Blind. See what you think- and feel free to comment.